"King of the Grindhouse" 42nd Street Pete: The Deuce, Stag, and The New School

Movie lovers already know who 42nd Street Pete is, he’s a man you’ll either love or hate, who has spent most of his life talking about and writing about movies. That’s our kind of man. Simply known as 42nd Street Pete, he is a connoisseur of trash cinema and has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything from stag films right down to Hammer, and loves sharing his insight about what he’s experienced. Pete, even at the height of his cult fame interviewing Joe Knetter and George Romero, garnering a following, and sporting almost ten specialty compilation DVDs with his brand name, the man was still kind enough to take the time out for an interview and share his sights and sounds with us for the readers. Pete is extremely humble for a man who has seen and done it all, and at his fifties he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. You’ll find no shortage of opinions from Pete who constantly rants on his MySpace blog about social issues, and saves the movie stuff for his two very entertaining websites, where he mixes movie reviews with his own personal anecdotes on how and why he found them.

The man is cynical and very outspoken, and anyone who knows me, knows that that’s an instant formula to getting on my good side. We thought we’d get the real information on 42nd Street, Grindhouse flicks, and everything else from the man who is never hesitant on giving his views on a world that’s been artistically neutered. It’s a great honor to interview 42nd Street Pete, and his cooperation leads into one of the most entertaining interviews ever conducted on Cinema Crazed. Grindhouse fans need apply.

42nd Street Pete, thanks for your time. What’s new?
What’s new: A couple of DVDs, a couple of articles in Scars Magazine and retardedly high gas prices!!

So for readers who aren’t quite aware of who you are, what are you all about?
What am I all about…? (laughs) I have been called a “Grindhouse Film Historian” and a lot of other things, but I never hung any label on myself. People consider me an “expert” in a lot of stuff, which is cool. I have seen just about every major and minor genre film on the big screen, where it should be seen. From the early 60’s when I saw my first “Kidde Matinee” (Curse of Frankenstein/Horror of Dracula) I was hooked. Of course I had seen all the Universal stuff on TV, so I was primed for more viewing.

One great thing about the kiddie shows was they ran all the old AIP [American International Pictures] stuff, so I got to see that all on the big screen. I “graduated” High School in 1970, the height of the Vietnam War. I was classified 1A by the draft board, which meant that I was eventually going to fight and die in a jungle. That being said, I felt there was no reason to plan a future, so I wound up spending the bulk of the 70’s in Time Square. I lost myself in a whirlwind of bars, pot, hookers, strip joints and grind houses. I saw at least three to five movies a week for a lot of years. I never wound up in Vietnam, but I got the education of a lifetime out on the streets.

Why do you think movie geeks of today are craving for a time of torn movie screens and dirty theaters with double features now more than ever?
Simple, because today’s theaters suck.

They are sterile and have no personality. You can’t smoke, drink, eat, talk back to the screen etc. When the movie is over, you get rushed out of the place.
Back in the day, you paid to get in and you could stay all day (and all night) if you were so inclined. Grindhouses had cool names like The Rialto, The Liberty, The Embassy, The Apollo, The Anco, etc. What do you have today, The Sony Multiplex? The Clearview Sevenplex? No personality, whatsoever.

Were you a fan of the film “Grind House (2007)”? And did it feel like an actual double bill to you?
I saw the film and realized two things. One: Today’s audience just doesn’t have the patience to sit through four hours of film. Two: Certain directors are trying to create “urban legends” that never happened. There is no such thing as a “missing reel.” Think of it, most of these films were anywhere from 58 to 90 minutes in length. To lose a reel meant you lost half the movie. You would lose footage. Projectionists would clip footage to sell or for their own collections. Films would break and you would lose a few minutes here and there, but never a whole reel.

I know what these guys were trying to do with “Grindhouse,” but it was a different era, a different mindset, and a completely different culture. Going to a grindhouse back in the day was an adventure. Yes it could be dangerous, yes the prints were grainy and scratched, yes, sometimes what went on in the audience was more entertaining than the actual film, but it was almost like a living, breathing entity.

You don’t have this today.

My uncle who was around the time of the Grindhouse era, told me that the term “Grindhouse” wasn’t invented until years later, would you agree?
I get this question a lot. No theater was ever built to be a Grindhouse. Most of the theaters on 42nd Street were built around the turn of the century. They had virtually indestructible interiors, and that’s why they lasted as long as they did. At first they were respectable with movies and stage shows. Times changed and got harder. Some became burlesque theaters, the “old bump and grind” as the old timers called it. That was the beginning of the grindhouse as I was told. Dave Friedman had told me that after burlesque became obsolete, the theaters used to show nudie and exploitation films almost 24/7. They just “ground out” those films. So that’s my interpretation of where the term came from.

From what I’ve read from folks who lived through the double bill period, they didn’t seem to enjoy the experience very much, is that true?
We loved the double and triple bills. Yeah, one movie might suck, but the other might be great. Shit, for $1.50 you could catch three films in one place. You can’t do that today even at the inflated prices. I managed a Drive-In in the 70’s. You got one big hit and a second run film then. Drive-Ins were open air Grindhouses. Your car was your seat, and if the second feature sucked, your car doubled as a hotel room.

Would you say the new wave of grindhouse fandom is based around people who weren’t there?
I would agree that the new wave of Grindhouse fans are people who were too young or weren’t born yet. Grindhouses died in the late 80’s, mostly because of home video. That, and the AIDS/Crack epidemic was the death knell for the Grindhouses. Going to the movies on “The Deuce” always had an aura of menace about it, but in the late 80’s, most sane people stayed away. Greedy realtors watched like vultures and gobbled up all the theaters and sex joints. Look what you have now, a Disneyfied tourist trap.

There are hundreds of stories out there, but what is the most unusual experience you’ve ever had at the movies?
I could write a book, (laughs) I’m trying to do that anyway. Aside from the occasional fist fights, lover’s quarrels, and guys finding out that the “hooker” that was doing them was a guy in drag, I remember two weird things. One was that a guy either jumped or was thrown from a balcony. He landed feet first and the seat collapsed, pinning his feet while he was standing up. He flopped back and forth for a while, much to the amusement of the patrons. Finally the fire department had to come and get him out.

Another time, we were at a Russ Meyer double feature. Halfway though “Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens,” the film broke. No big whoop as that was a common occurrence. Not this time. After about 20 minutes, the house lights went on and the fire department showed up. We were given refunds and told to leave. It seems that the projectionist was pleasuring himself and had a heart attack. He had locked the door to the booth and they had to break it down.

What was 42nd Street like around your time?
The Wild West, that’s what it was. It was anything goes. The place was alive then. Every marquee offered double and triple bills of every genre of film. Street walkers and pimps were everywhere. It was The Devil’s Playground and I was ready to join the party. “The Deuce” never closed. Or at least some of it didn’t.

Grindhouse ran films from 10am until 2 or 3am. The bars didn’t close until 4am. Shitty porn grinders like the Harem(open 24/7) on 42nd street and the Venus on 8th ave. (open 10am until dawn) became places to crash if you missed the last bus or were too fucked up to drive back home.

To me, it was a great time. You could do whatever you wanted, you had a lot more freedom than you have today. I just got swept up in the whole scene. I worked a job where I got off at 11pm. “The Deuce” was just ten minutes away. For a while I was over there almost every night.

Did you love the mood and tone of 42nd street before it was sanitized?
I would say that the last eight years before the ‘purge’ were pretty grim over there. Now, with all the crack and dust heads, it was dangerous. It was like a bad zombie movie, these people wandering around in a semi-comatose state. Anything could trigger a violent reaction. Staying out of the rest rooms was a given as you would get mugged there. Most of the guys I hung with had stopped going over there. I stopped around ‘89, but wound up working in one of the last porn distributorships in ’97.

Did you ever go into the stag theaters?
Hell yeah! That is how I got my sexual education. The first stuff I saw was softcore and later found out that it was shot by Nick Phillips. After “Deep Throat,” everything went hardcore. The theaters were all different and some had live sex shows. The storefront theaters were converted retail stores that had a wall painted white or a sheet hing up. A plywood partition was built as a projection booth or sometimes the projector was out in the open. Being that a lot of these films had no sound, a record player was used. The seats were a bunch of folding chairs and admission could be from $1.99 to $5.

Regular porn theaters were down on 8th ave. These were the creepy ones, full of low lives. Drag queens, pick pockets, chain snatchers, street crazies, low end hookers, gay guys cruising the rest rooms, etc. Muggers used to go into the men’s room and unscrew the light bulbs. These places had what I called “Odor De Grindhouse” a combination of sweat, cigarette, pot smoke, stale beer, wine & piss. You read it right, piss. Rather than risk getting mugged, the old timers would piss in an empty popcorn or soda cup, which would get dumped on the floor. The Venus closed at 7am. When the lights went on you wouldn’t envy the job of the clean up guy. The better theaters that actually were attended by couples, were on Broadway. They even had security on the premises.

I’m particularly a fan of the stag films from the seventies more than the modern, what are some of your favorite stars?
Marilyn Chambers, Vanessa Del Rio, Nico, Velvet Summers, Sharon Mitchell, Lisa De Leeuw, Desire Cousteau, Ushi Digard, and Candy Samples

What do you miss most about the cinema of that era?
The freedom and the risks. “Grindhouse” lost like 60 Million dollars. That money wasn’t QT’s or RR’s. The guys like Ted V. Mikels, Andy Milligan, David Durston, and others used their own money and resources. These guys, RR & QT got handed $80 million to do “Grindhouse.” If that money came out of their own pockets, someone would have been running a telethon to help them recoup what they lost. You will never have a guy like Andy Milligan running around the street of NY with his Bolex Camera. Ted Mikels waiting for a cop car to show up at an accident so he could shoot it and use the footage. Jerry Gross telling the MPAA to fuck off. Taking a negative review for “I Spit on Your Grave” and making it a positive. Slapping an “R” on films like “Last Cannibal World” and “I Drink Your Blood” without even submitting them for a rating. The film makers then were rebels and mavericks, they did this stuff because they loved the business. I’m sure QT & RR love the business too, but just do us all a favor, and don’t try to rewrite history.

What is your research for Grindhouse films based around?
Personal experience and reading. I don’t use the internet, it’s too easy. I like to dig stuff up. I like to read, but I’m not gonna give up my secrets. I can remember the films, when and where I saw them, what I was smoking or drinking when I saw them, and what else was going on in the theater. Ask me where I parked my car today, I couldn’t tell you (laughs).

Is there a particular sub-set of Grindhouse films you’re more drawn to?
Stuff that is taboo usually makes me want to see it. I’m glad that Cannibal Holocaust was finally released intact. My first love is horror, closely followed by Spaghetti Westerns, Exploitation, and Porn. Actually I love all the genres. Disney Films give me hives.

Is there a particular sub-set of Grind house films you’re less likely to seek out?
Yeah, I’m not big on the Kung Fu period stuff. I liked “5 Fingers of Death,” because it was new at the time. After that, I didn’t really seek the stuff out. If it played on a double bill with something I wanted to see, I would watch it and usually make fun of it. Biker films were another genre that I found iffy. Only a few were really good, like The Wild Angels, The Losers & Hells Angels ’69. The others were kind of boring.

How many DVD’s are currently under your 42nd Street Pete label?
Right now I have six on the market and, hopefully, a lot more to come.

What are some of your favorites of the Grindhouse sub-genre?
Zombie, Cannibal Holocaust, Sabata, The Losers, Cut Throats Nine, Make Them Die Slowly, The Beyond, Reanimator, Bloody Pit of Horror, Flesh Eaters(’64), Horror of Party Beach , Eaten Alive (Hooper), NOTLD, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hunting Party, Wicked School Girls, Big Bird Cage, Savage Sisters, Taming of Rebecca, and a lot more.

Are you big on neo-grindhouse films like “From Dusk Til Dawn,” and “Oldboy”?
I liked “Dusk Til Dawn,” “The Devil’s Rejects,” and a few others. Some people say “modern grindhouse,” but there is no such thing as there are no more grindhouses. Some films have their roots planted firmly in the grindhouse culture. “Chainsaw Sally,” “Pervert! The Movie,” and “Flesh for the Beast” come to mind.

What are your thoughts on modern cinema and filmmakers in general?
Just because someone got a camcorder for Xmas, doesn’t make them a film maker. Look, I never consider myself anything more than a fan. I am honored that people have come to respect my opinions and experiences as a consumer and have encouraged me to pursue my writing. I applaud anyone who gives this business a shot. Romero, Carpenter, Craven, Hooper, and the rest are grindhouse graduates. Our next batch of film makers will come from the Indies. Directors like Jimmy O, Adam Green, Mike Watt, and others will be the new breed. I get a lot of films for my opinion. I won’t bury anyone as a lot of people are thin skinned and can’t take criticism. I will get back to the film maker and tell them I’ll pass on doing a review, but if you want constructive advice, I’ll tell you where I think you went wrong. Like I said, I’m not the end all and be all in this business. An opinion is like an asshole, we all have them.

How many films in total would you say you have?
(laughs) I had a video store for 15 years, that is how I fed my habit. I had over 3000 of my own videos at one point. Now I have roughly the same amount on DVD. Then I have all this 8mm stuff. If I had to watch everything I have, I doubt that I would live long enough to finish it.

So, where else can we read more from you?
I now write regularly for Scars Magazine and for the website. I have two website up 42ndstreetpete.com and 42ndstreetpeteforever.com. I’m on Myspace under 42nd Street Pete. I also contributing to “Ultraviolent,” and “Uncut” Magazine. I do the announcing for the Monster Mania Convention and I do a Grindhouse Panel at The Cinema Wasteland Convention. I also contribute to thedeclarationofindependents.net, a wrestling website. Honestly, I don’t do any of this for a paycheck. People have a misconceived notion that I’m making a living doing this.

I’m not, I do it because I like it and people seem to like what I do. If I could get a regular job doing this, it would be great, but I’m not holding my breath. What a lot of people seem to forget is that you are nothing without the fans. The fans are the only reason I do this and I make myself accessible via the internet and the cons. As long as I’m wanted and people like what I’m doing, I’ll be around. I’m grateful for what I have and what I have accomplished. I’ve met some great people on this ride and some real bottom feeders. I’ve made a lot of friends and have had some great experiences. Even though I’m struggling (like everyone, right now) if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Except for losing that cute, blonde hooker’s home phone number on one of those lost Saturday nights.

Thanks so much for your time, Pete.
Thanks for this opportunity and hope you guys like it. In closing, support you local Indie films and buy some of my stuff if you like good retro porn. Later 42P.

42nd Street Pete’s DVD’s can be found on Xploited Cinema, Amazon, and pretty much every online retailer. Buy them.